Is this really the first book I’ve finished this year? Quite possibly, but all the months have basically run together at this point, so….
May is Haitian Heritage Month (today is Haitian Flag Day!), and Ayiti has been on my TBR list ever since I read Difficult Women, so I figured I should finally pick it up and dig in. I swooned about Difficult Women a little in last year’s Mid-Year Reading Roundup and vowed to read all things Roxane Gay, so I ordered Ayiti for my birthday last September, and it sat lovingly on my bedside table waiting for me to pick it up. Instead, I started on We Are Not Ourselves and The Source of Self-Regard, neither of which I have managed to finish. To be fair, Ayiti is much smaller, and a much lighter read than the other two.
I grew up not feeling Haitian enough for the Kreyol-speaking members of my family (and the random people who would visit my grandmother’s house). The first time I read a book by a Haitian author (knowingly) was in college when I was introduced to Edwidge Danticat. Something about her writing made me feel a little more connected to my Grandparents’ home, so I read a few more of her books, but never managed to collect them all.
I had no idea Roxane Gay came from a Haitian background when I picked up Difficult Women—I was just intrigued by her stories—but knowing she’s part of my people made me feel all the more connected to her. I wanted to read… see… her Haiti since I have no memory of it of my own.
I finished Ayiti in about a day. The book includes some short stories, and some really short stories. There were many images with which I was not familiar, but there was one specific thing nestled in “About My Father’s Accent” that sent me on a furious search for an old cell phone video clip that I ultimately wasn’t able to find:
“We hear him dancing to konpa, the palm of one hand resting against his belly, his other hand raised high in the air as he rocks his hips from side to side.”
My grandfather had dementia. Sometimes he knew who we were, and other times he forgot how many children his children had. He often talked about making shoes and building houses. He spoke three languages, sometimes simultaneously, and he loved music. I remember this moment (not the whole day or much of the event itself, just this moment) like it was yesterday.
We were at a cousin’s house. Which of my mom’s aunts or uncles he belonged to, I don’t know, but he’s always just been one of my mom’s “cousins”. My grandfather, after having been assisted to the restroom, was walking back into the garage. He had on a blue floral shirt, dark colored shorts, and his sandals. As soon as he managed the step down to the garage and his fragile mind was able to focus on another thing, he noticed the music playing. He started to dance. One hand on his belly, the other in the air, his hips rocking from side to side.
…at least that’s how I remember it… and I can’t, for the life of me, find that video to confirm my memory, but the thought of him dancing in that garage, his frail body moving from side to side, makes me smile… and brings me to tears. I miss that old man.
There are so many interesting stories in Ayiti, but my favorite is “Sweet on the Tongue.” The range of emotions I felt reading this story, the twists, the turns… [chef’s kiss]. Roxane Gay did the thing with this one. I’m not even going to spoil it for you. Just know, I could not guess where the story was going to land while I was reading it. Every few minutes I’d be in another part of Therese’s story, wondering how I got there and where we were going next. Love.
Ayiti was an honor to read during Haitian Heritage Month, especially as someone who often feels disconnected from her own Haitian heritage and has spent her life wishing she’d learned more from her grandmother while she was alive. There are two other books I’d like to find this month to read. I say “find” because I’m still trying not to buy as many books as I used to, and be more particular about the ones I do buy to make sure I want them in my collection long term. Everything Inside (Danticat) is the first, and Dear Haiti, Love Alaine (Moulite x2) is the second. Both of these have been on my list for a while, and I just never got to them. Thankfully, Everything Inside was available via OverDrive so that’s my current read. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.
What are you reading for May? I want to know all the fun, interesting, and exciting things you’re devouring this month (like I need to add any more books to my TBR list [face palm]).
…haven’t said that in a while!